Monday, February 13, 2006

Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan

Jamaica Bay is home to a wide array of wildlife and amazing coastal habitat only a stones throw away from downtown Manhattan. Located in the southeastern-most portion of New York City, bounded by Brooklyn to the northwest and Queens to the northeast and south, the region has long been long known for its world-class fishing and numerous recreational opportunities that include swimming, kayaking, windsurfing, and birdwatching just to name a few. However, the ecosystem has also endured high levels of pollution and habitat degradation in recent centuries, a byproduct of development and treated (and sometime untreated) wastewater. The good news is that the Jamaica Bay Task Force, created by Local NYC Law 71, is working to better understand the environmental issues of the region and will eventually create a plan for restoring and conserving this amazing coastal resource. JB

Sandwiched between the Rockaway Peninsula and the "mainland" of Kings (Brooklyn) and Queens Counties, Jamaica Bay is a estuarine oasis in an urban landscape. Home to millions of people the region is one of the most densely populated on earth. The great natural resources of Jamaica Bay have attracted many local New York City residents to its shores for recreational and commercial activities, but have also led to a degradation of its habitat and wildlife. Jamaica Bay is truly an urban environment with great potential for restoration, and with the right planning and management it may be able to continue providing protection and foraging grounds for the multiple animal and plant species that inhabitat its shores.

Jamaica Bay connects to the Lower New York Harbor and Atlantic Ocean via Rockaway Inlet to its west. The region is an estuary, and as such the salinity of the waters in the Bay range from completely fresh to entirely saltly, with the average salinity falling somewhere in between. With this range in salinity comes a wide range of species both in-and-out of the water. In the water, a multitude of fish species including striped bass, flounder, and fluke to name a few can be found side-by-side with various crab species, tons of invertebrates, and even the occasional seal and sea turtle! As well, the area is known for its world class birdwatching, and depending on the day or even the season one can observe everything from great egrets, blue herons, and raptors to piping plovers, seagulls, and many species of waterfowl.

The lands surrounding Jamaica Bay are owned by several different agencies, organizations, and individuals. One of the biggest landowners is the Federal Government which operates the
Gateway National Recreation Area. In addition, there are several city parks that can be found throughout the estuary including Marine Park and Edgemere Park. One of the biggest landholders is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as they operate JFK International Airport in the northeast corner of the Bay. Individual landowners comprise the majority of the remaining real estate, and some parcels still are undeveloped to this day, although some large development projects are planned or being implemented throughout the region.

Due to the intense development of the region, many pollutants have been added to the system and a high percentage of the estuarine habitat has been lost. One of the main sources of degradation historically has been from the multiple wastewater treatment plants in the Bay. During dry weather most of these plants release only treated wastewater, and impacts to the natural environment are limited. However, during higher than usual rain events the system becomes overloaded and raw sewage is released into the waters of several inlets and creeks that fringe Jamaica Bay. Fortunately, the
NYC Department of Environmental Protection is working on many projects to eliminate the amount of wastewater entering the ecosystem.

Another major cause for concern in Jamaica Bay has been the loss of various sea and marsh grasses that were traditionally found throughout the Bay. Marsh loss in general has perplexed local scientists and residents alike, with numerous hypotheses being put forward as to why and
how the grasses and marsh habitat have been lost. Some of the leading rationales include, an increase in boat wakes, sea level rise, and many more. Eutrophication, or over-nutrification of the Bay is also seen as leading to poor water quality and habitat degradation in the region.

In 2002, multiple stakeholders came together to form the
Jamaica Bay Task Force (JBTF). The JBTF is a coalition brought together by the City Council to review the multiple environmental issues of the Bay and create a management plan to restore and conserve its amazing natural resources. The partnership includes many members of the local environmental community including NYCDEP, Port Authority (PANYNJ), US National Parks Service (NPS), local community boards, and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to name a few. Many non-profit organizations have been involved with the process including NRDC and the Friends of Gateway. Part of the JBTF process includes multiple public meetings, one of which took place at York College in Jamaica Queens on February 9, 2006. A full report on the JBTF is expected on September 1, 2006 when NYCDEP is required to complete the Watershed Protection Plan and submit their findings to the Mayor and the Speaker of the Council.

For more information:

Jamaica Bay Task Force
http://nin.nbii.gov/jamaicabay/jbtf/jbtf.html

Jamaica Bay Research and Management Information Network
http://nin.nbii.org/jamaicabay/index.html

Friends of Gateway
http://www.treebranch.com/friends_of_gateway.htm

Jamaica Bay Wikipedia Page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaica_Bay

Advisory Committee
http://nin.nbii.gov/jamaicabay/jbwppac/advisorycommittee.html

Gateway National Recreation Area (National Parks Service)
http://www.nps.gov/gate/

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